Spirit of Hong Kong

The motley but passionate crew making a difference at the Crossroads Foundation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 October, 2013, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

A quick potted history of the Crossroads Foundation. A kind and caring couple, both accountants – Malcolm and Sally Begbie - from Australia are asked to provide aid to flood victims on the mainland back in the 1990s. They put out an alert and are inundated with goods. They see potential in Hong Kong for goods and services to be used to serve the needy in our city and around the world.

So goods are matched with those who need them in Hong Kong – about 50 per cent – and shipping firms for the other goods to be transported elsewhere and that’s how Crossroads International, now known as the Crossroads Foundation starts. And the entire Begbie family joins in.

But then … the organisation grows. It has more than 80 employees and hundreds of volunteers at its facilities in Tuen Mun. They create “Xperiences” – that thousands of schoolchildren and businesspeople visit – to feel what it is like to be blind; to live with HIV; to be poverty-stricken or a refugee. The charity also teams up with the United Nations to create a state of the art website

Enter Matthew Gow and Kate Falconer, both of whom had promising corporate careers, but decided to forego a healthy salary, to work for Crossroads and make a difference. Both have been nominated for the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards by Hong Kong fashion designer Barney Cheng for their selfless desire to help those in need. Gow’s background is in information technology. “I worked previously with Digital, then Hewlett-Packard. I worked in the IT services at ING Bank or Mercantile Mutual and SAP the German software company, working as a business analyst,” says Australian Gow, 35. “I was finishing up a contract in Sydney when I saw Sally Begbie speak.”

And that was the end of his lucrative career. Gow is now a veteran of Crossroads, having worked there for 12 years.

Gow, a father of two, explains how his salary is supplied by investors – so outside sponsors. “Matt joined us in 2000,” says Crossroads co-founder Malcolm Begbie. “He has overseen the IT processes needed to put our seven websites in place. This includes Global Hand: the website which ‘match-makes’ between companies and non-profits, all over the world. It includes, too, the site we built for the United Nations which, similarly, links companies with UN branches through ‘matching’ technology.

“He is one incredibly able guy who, because of a real and deep concern for the poor, has put down what was a sure-fire career trajectory to a life of service, as a volunteer, enabling those who ‘have not’ in our dysfunctional world.”

Falconer, meanwhile, is the foundation’s communications guru. She was looking at a promising career in corporate communications, working with Boeing, in Australia, but put that aside 15 years ago to come to Crossroads as a volunteer.

“Working in communications for Crossroads I get to give voice to those both in Hong Kong and around the world that are truly the unsung heroes,” she says. “I know it sounds cliched, but I can’t tell you what a joy it is to come home exhausted at the end of the day and know your energies have gone into making a difference,” she says. “Of course, living in a community where at any given time there are around 20 nationalities means there are ups and downs but they are mostly ups. We are like a mini United Nations.

“There are a number of things that have made me stay as long as I have,” says Falconer. “A key aspect is the growing, exciting nature of the work. When I came there were eight of us doing distribution work. Now we are reaching out across the globe through many services. Also the Crossroads family, we are a motley but passionate crew and it is an inspirational group of people to work alongside.”

But perhaps most importantly for Falconer it’s the people that the foundation serves. “When I travel to tiny villages, literally off the beaten track, to meet families who have nothing to eat but what they can scavenge and they tell me with pride that it will be different for their son who is going to school because of the resources that we gave them … well what better motivation could there be to keep it up?”